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Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 09:46 am
The history of the world as told by charisma shop staffs

Shohei Imamura's History of Postwar Japan as Told by a Bar Hostess (which Hisae and I watched last night) is a great film, a 1970 documentary that interweaves newsreel coverage of postwar events with the bar's-eye-view of a garrulous, brash, sex- and company-loving woman, the beehive-haired Onboro-San. When the Korean war breaks out, Onboro is having an affair with a barman. While students occupy the university, Onboro is having problems with her policeman boyfriend.

Onboro's concerns are very different from the concerns of newspapers, but history in the newspaper sense does impact her, mostly in the form of passing anxieties that don't really lead anywhere, and certainly don't distract her from running her bar or having children by a large number of different men. Imamura's point is that Onboro's world is as much "the real world" as the newspapers' world is. And although I'm someone who checks the news headlines several times a day, it got me thinking that one index of happiness is the degree to which you can ignore that newspaper world. The degree to which you can elevate a personal reality above the sometimes crazy and usually inconsequential lurches of "history".



I got to wondering about how one might remake Imamura's film today, and picked a narrator Hisae and I have recently become fascinated with: Yama-Sama, one of the shop staff at Tokyo Bopper, a Harajuku boutique specializing in nu-rave hiking gear. Yama-Sama blogs regularly at Merry Daily, whose motto is the rousing "Now, select me as a tool for changes!"

Yama-Sama's worldview ignores completely the sub-prime crisis in the US housing market, Israel's declaration of Gaza "a hostile entity", the possibility of bombing raids on Iran and the irony that it's now France which seems to be touting them, or the opening up of a free water passage between the Atlantic and Pacific through the devastated ice of a north pole warmed by polar bear blood and car exhaust fumes. Instead, Yama-Sama is currently preoccupied with Tyrolean style, tartan, Northern European folk patterns, repurposed camping gear, the Cool Vienna blog, berets, smiley t-shirts and Argyle sweaters.



Yama-Sama does occasionally hint at wider issues. Gender politics, for instance, is evident in statements like "I wanna wear this like tough boots even I am a girl! I'm trying on Men's new trekking shoes". And an art school education is hinted at in the pronouncement that "even though it's avant-garde, the colourful makeup is still pretty". The syntax marks Yama out as something of an aesthetic conservative, despite her different-coloured laces and her mixture of Pringle classics with early 90s rave references.

Battles don't figure in Yama-Sama's life -- unless you're talking about the band Battles. "I'm listening this often these days," says Yama's colleague Tabi, who's playing the "Mirrored" album in the shop. "Sometimes it sounds like a hard dance music or rock'n'roll. But it partly sounds like a opera! It's very stimulous."



I'd treat Yama-Sama and her fellow "charisma shop staffs" with at least as much respect as Imamura shows for his bar hostess. I don't know whether Israel's declaration of the Palestinians as "hostile" is evidence that Tony Blair has failed in his new job, or simply a bit of stage management to give Condi Rice some appearance of success in her current Middle East mission. I don't know if the McCanns killed their own daughter. I don't know if "Bin Laden" really exists. I don't know if the New York family living without electricity is doing it to save the planet or because they want to make a lot of money (and destroy a lot of trees) by writing a bestselling book about it.

What I suspect is that much of what fills newspapers is theatre of a cheap and unedifying kind; spectacle management. I feel like a dupe, sometimes, for following it, for getting angry or anxious or disgusted on cue. And that's why someone like Yama-Sama can be a sort of hero to me. Yama-Sama generates her own narrative lines and follows them with passionate enthusiasm. And who's to say she's not living in the real world?

34CommentReplyFlag


(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 08:45 am (UTC)

Momus, I not you didn't answer Microworlds's questions from the previous comments. Perhaps you didn't notice them; if so, here they are again:

1) Did you get an erection whilst viewing my nude picture?

2) What do you think about while masturbating?

3) If you could have any superpower what would it be?


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 08:46 am (UTC)

Momus, I note you didn't answer Microworlds's questions from the previous comments. Perhaps you didn't notice them; if so, here they are again:

1) Did you get an erection whilst viewing my nude picture?

2) What do you think about while masturbating?

3) If you could have any superpower what would it be?


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 10:33 am (UTC)

Microworlds, how about posting your nude pic here, and then we can survey all of Momus's male readers on its erectability.

So do Momus nude pics get you soaking?


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 11:11 am (UTC)

Momus, someone once said that comment-enabled blogs should be judged on the quality of comments they attract. Would you go along with that?

- Lucia


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 11:19 am (UTC)

There'll be some on-topic comments along in a moment, Lucia. Meanwhile, wasn't it you who introduced this line of questioning yesterday?

Anyway, one of the points in today's entry (for those who didn't read it!) is that there's no obligation to get dragged into other people's narrative framings. I think that's one definition of freedom and heroism, and it applies as much to "Did you masturbate to my photograph?" (a question sure to make someone angry, however it's answered or even not-answered) as to the choice to be interested in Tyrolean fashion rather than, say, the McCann Saga.


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 11:37 am (UTC)

I feel divided on this. On the one hand, I do feel that the media is manipulative in focusing our attention on whatver it is we're supposed to be outraged by or afraid of next, on the other hand, I feel like there's a great deal that should cause outrage, or fear, that is ignored. How is it, for instance, that four million dead in the Congo hardly warrants a footnote in the news, whereas the events of September the 11th, 2001, have apparently 'changed the world'?

I'm finding this an interesting blog, in giving a slightly different angle on things.

Also a fan of Interbreeding, which has now been rendered completely anonymous (author and commenters both).


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 11:57 am (UTC)

I bookmarked this site before realising that its message is profoundly reactionary in its defeatism: it's all lies, democracy is dead, these are the end times, the powerful can do what they like.

The problem with acknowledging at its "proper" value the four million dead in the Congo stat is that atrocity can lead to a similar nihilism. Nothing we could do would stand up to that -- there would be, as Adorno recommended, no more poetry after Auschwicz. And that would mean, in a way, that the logic of Aushwicz had won, eclipsing everything else humans do, all the mild stuff, the kind daily stuff.

I saw M.I.A. posing in a t-shirt that just said DARFUR. It seemed to trivialize both what's happened in Darfur and what was happening in that photography studio, as part of that marketing exercise for a new album.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 11:53 am (UTC)
On Topic (ish)

In the late Eighties, I had a media black-out for three years. Didn't read a paper, magazine, or watch the TV. If something happened in the news I'd just ask a guy in the pub about it. Funnily enough, I felt completely in touch with everything - more so than I had been before, and after (I'd been a total media junkie since the age of 11). Life was that much more immediate because I only dealt with immediate things and didn't bother with mediated things.

What's your view on the John Kerry UF taser phenomenon on YouTube, Momus? Have you been following that?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bVa6jn4rpE&mode=related&search=
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jkgv2E8NWs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmZdPILiGk4&mode=related&search=

The middle one of those links has received 98,321 views in three days, and it seems that EVERYBODY has got something to say about it.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 12:03 pm (UTC)
Re: On Topic (ish)

The taser episode is another example of the untrustworthiness of news events. The guy may well have been doing it as a publicity stunt; he's a professional prankster. A compelling news event like that can launch a career, seal a book deal, get you lots of attention. It's the same with the McCanns; it seems to be all about the attention, the PR. Being in a big news story is like having a hit record that becomes a classic as it "rolls".

News is the new rock! I think I hate it for the same reasons I hate rock -- that glib, self-serving mix of artifice and authenticity claims.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 12:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Off Topic-ish

Well maybe. I don't know enough about the guy to comment on whether he's a prankster or not, or whether someone people just say he's a prankster, because someone else has tagged him as a prankster. But isn't the whole phenomenon surrounding that event a bit like a hyper-inflated version of your blog? There is a topic, in reference to that topic someone says something they think is important, someone else says something that they think is important. Another moment passes. another moment passes backed up by another moment, then another one. Nothing really changes and we all just die in the end.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 12:55 pm (UTC)

I've always felt like Neitzsche's addressing certain important political matters of his age tarnished his books to some degree. Couldn't he see that those issues were far less important in the long run than some of his more broad concerns? This is the case with any artist, really. I end up feeling slightly embarassed for them.

Not that there hasn't been the occasional hiccup over the last 3000 years, but basically society keeps rolling along, slowly evolving; and people's fears throughout the ages have more or less been a waste of energy.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 01:05 pm (UTC)

Evolving?

Do you see that?


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desant012
||||||||||
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 02:15 pm (UTC)

The thing about the newspaper spectacle is, things really are starting to get pretty grim. I think people, especially artists, are hiding behind cute fuzzy sweaters and childhood nostalgia kitsch way too much - if we keep escaping into our warm, private worlds, then what?

Yama San's style is definitely turn of the 21st century zeitgeist, but I think it's a huge problem with bigger-scale creativity, particularly in the US... people are refusing to realize the 90s are over, and it feels weird to turn away from the chaos of the world (most of which -our- society created) while that very willful ignorance kind-of gives a justified free reign to the blinding, unchecked greed fueling it all. Of course, this is coming from the perspective of an American, so there's an extra kind-of guilt and outrage going on.

Honestly, I just want to smack the twee, wishy-washy pseudo-liberal 666Bush666 "eat all your vegetables son" Brooklyn 30-something creative establishment for being so selfishly weak in the face of opportunity to create intense art. But that's a little off topic.


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 05:34 pm (UTC)

I mostly avoid newspapers and news programs today because they're more focused on celebrity news than actual happenings in say, Uganda. Which is why I look at the news online, because most times comments are allowed. There's quite a difference between online and concrete sources like TV and newspaper. I much prefer seeing (mostly) uncensored and unbiased news. With OCCASIONAL celebrity news. I could find celebrity news from sources dedicated to the subject, thanks.


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joentdothat
joentdothat
joentdothat
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 10:45 pm (UTC)
Inconsequential history

I feel like I should hardly need to point it out, but history is only inconsequential for those who are lucky (or spoiled) enough to be able to ignore it. What's happening in Gaza right now, for example. Inconsequential for you, maybe.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 11:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Inconsequential history

Sure, being able to ignore history does make you lucky or spoiled. It's surely the aspiration of all political actors to reach a state when "history", in this sense, becomes just a memory, a bad dream you've woken up from. Including Palestinians. And one amazing thing is how, even in the midst of suffering, people manage to ignore it and carry on with the ordinary friendly business of making babies, eating, playing football and so on.

What I think is fairly unreal and inconsequential is the specific issue I raised re: Gaza -- not "the situation" in general, but Israel's designation of the territory a "hostile entity". This struck me as pure "spectacle management", an abstract piece of posturing which will allow the Israelis to concede something while appearing tough, and Condi to look a bit less useless than she did during the Lebanese war last year.

I went out to see a Chris Marker documentary about Israel today ("Description of a Struggle", 1960), and he has some interesting things to say in the film about how there's a kind of unsettling "end of history" feeling starting to make itself felt in Israel as early as 1960 -- a sense that in trading their suffering for mere comfort (building a sort of Florida of the Middle East) the "chosen people" are losing as well as gaining something. But there's no real argument for saying people should cling to their victim status just because it's historical.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 11:30 pm (UTC)

Momus --

Whether the student's purpose was genuinely political or pure spectacle (can these even be considered as separate objectives?), the reaction of the security guards is not justified. We can't go around calling one an abuse of power because its target is perceived to be a particular set of personal politics, and the other one A-OK because its target is perceived to be obnoxious opportunism.

-Max


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Sep. 21st, 2007 11:44 pm (UTC)

I'm certainly not arguing the tasering was justified or "A-OK"! I just think it's morally muddy, and in the end it's spectacle (YouTube hits!) rather than an ethical issue. In other words, it's showbiz, and at that point I think I prefer my showbiz to be someone dressing up, in a goodnatured way, as a Tyrolean mountaineer.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


(Anonymous)
Sat, Sep. 22nd, 2007 12:10 am (UTC)

And just to be clear. I don't think one example of cops using tasers, or even a handful of such examples, signals a move toward despotism or the "end times" or whatever. The law enforcement system in the US is too decentralized for there to be anything that nefarious and premeditated about it.

But I think it does say something about the political climate, and how political speech is perceived these days. That cops would even imagine that a sizable force (4? 5 officers?) would be necessary to subdue an idiot whose only crime is barging to the front of a Q&A line and proceeding to hog the mic seems ridiculous to me. And that using a taser on him even crossed any of their minds is absolutely absurd.

It seems that the common assumption now, among law enforcement, is that political speech is especially virulent and prone to causing major public disruptions and safety issues. This is laughable, of course, because American political dissent hasn't been dangerous for decades. So why the need for tasers at a political gathering?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Sep. 22nd, 2007 09:21 am (UTC)
Taser celebritization

Oh, I'm with you totally. The US has definitely embraced the mindset of a paranoid security state since 9/11, and many observers (Gore Vidal, Morrissey, Philip Roth) have seen the stirrings of a "fascism lite", the makings of a state where war is permanent, torture is routine and only one of the two main parties even believes in habeus corpus. The tasering has to be seen in that context. But it also has to be seen in the context of self-mediation, of Web 2.0, of book deals and chatshow opportunities, and of the fabled American belief that anyone can experience a sudden reversal of fortune. One of the most fascinating things about the US is that those developments go side by side.


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wrayb
nostrangerer
Sat, Sep. 22nd, 2007 03:17 am (UTC)
valid point

Erik Barnouw, Mass communication: television, radio, film, press: the media and their practice in the United States of America. (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, c.1956).

Therein Barnouw goes into the relationship of people to information and entertainment. For me he summed it up quite well and I don't see any change; just deeper immersion and into the world of infotainment and more complexity in decerning what does and does not have relevancy to ones own life.


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Calligraphy Kid [wordpress.com]
Calligraphy Kid
Sat, Sep. 22nd, 2007 01:51 pm (UTC)
quelle surprise!

Actually I share the train station here in Tokyo as your beloved Yama and have ran into her a couple of times.

The reason she doesn't follow world events may have something to do with working seven days a week in a Harajuku shoe store and rarely getting home before 10pm. From this you could surmise that her worldview derives from the magazines passed around the store and the international mix of customers. Every young Japanese person who wants to gain firsthand knowledge of the fashion industry has a similar story to tell.

I've just emailed Yama about her newfound admirer and, in the unlikely event that she ever has the time to reply, you'll hear about it here.


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